Edward Landin Senn and Andrew Senn knew their family was always going to be a bit nontraditional. But even they couldn’t have predicted, when they first met, just how nontraditional it would be.
Nor how perfect.
Growing up — Edward in Lancaster County, Andrew in the Chicago suburb of Evanston — both men envisioned a future with children. The subject of fatherhood came up shortly after they started dating.
They had met by chance in 2008. Andrew was involved in a concert that Edward attended with a friend. Edward later reached out to Andrew on social media.
Messages were exchanged, then phone calls; finally, there was a date. Things took off after that. They were the first gay couple married at Andrew’s church.
In 2016, when the men became serious about starting a family, they found that private adoption was out of their price range. So they trained at Haven Adoptions in Ambler to become foster parents, with the hope of perhaps adopting a foster child between birth and 5 years of age.
They briefly fostered twin 4-year-old girls before receiving a call in March 2017 about fostering another set of twins — premature newborns Anthony and Arabella. The infants were in the neonatal intensive care unit at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery in East Norriton Township.
The babies’ biological parents had struggled with addiction, and the twins were born with drugs in their system. They’d also aspirated meconium (an infant’s first stool, which is sometimes excreted in utero), which can cause breathing problems. Anthony weighed about 4 pounds; Arabella, only 2 1/2. But the children were otherwise healthy.
Usually, said Edward, the goal of foster care is reunification with family. But "in our situation, it became clear the parents would not be getting the kids.” The children’s paternal grandmother, who was already raising another grandchild, hoped to obtain custody of the twins, so Edward and Andrew presumed they’d care for the babies only until that legal arrangement was made.
“We did not think about twins at all,” said Andrew, when he and Edward imagined becoming parents. “We had no ideas what to expect.”
Though the couple were nervous about taking in preemies, they decided to go for it despite being ill-prepared, equipment-wise. Not knowing what age a potential foster child would be, they hadn’t stocked up on baby items. The first weeks were a rush of activity as they set to work outfitting a proper room for the children in their 750-square-foot, two-bedroom/one-bath home — a twin, coincidentally — in Germantown. (They have since moved to Mount Airy.)
They also received reassurance for their new-parent jitters.
“A couple of days into this, and you’ll know the babies better than anyone else,” a nurse promised them.
When Anthony was discharged (a few weeks before his sister, who soon followed), the babies’ birth parents were invited to the hospital to say goodbye.
“They were kind," Edward said. "They knew the children were going home with us, and they were not hostile or rude. I will never forget that.”
From the start, the twins’ social worker advised the couple to get to know the children’s grandmother, Judi Siuta, 67, as she worked through the custody process. The trio quickly bonded, and were soon arranging regular, frequent visits at both the couple’s home and at Siuta’s home in East Norriton. Siuta would take the children overnight, and also babysat for the men.
"We built this incredible bond with her over the course of maybe a year,” Andrew said.
Siuta was impressed by the couple’s devotion to her grandchildren. "The guys were great with those kids, from day one,” she said.
The children’s mother visited the twins when they were about 4 months old, said Edward. She brought them toys and Gerber banana meals, which she said her other children had really enjoyed. (The mother had had three children prior to the birth of the twins; two of those children live with their maternal grandmother; the third lives with Siuta.)
“I will love being able to tell my kids that story when they’re older, and we have to navigate those waters" about their early years, Edward said. Both he and Siuta said that the biological mother has since lost touch with family. Their father was charged in July 2017 in connection with an overdose death of a friend. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine-and-a-half to 20 years in prison.
All the while, Andrew, Edward, and Siuta were becoming ever closer. They adored the babies, and the men had fully supported Siuta’s wish that the twins be kept in contact with their siblings as well as with extended family members.
The men even reached out by phone to the kids’ biological father, whom Edward eventually visited in prison. Another visit soon followed, this time with Andrew and the children in tow. The kids, who are sometimes shy around strangers, took to their biological father right away, Andrew said, playing connect-the-dots and drawing pictures with him for about two hours.
"I imagine he will be part of their lives when he gets out,” said Andrew.
As time progressed, Siuta saw how the children were thriving with Andrew and Edward.
“It took me a while to realize they had already made a family, the four of them," she said. And she came to a decision: If the men wanted to formalize their union with the children, she would support it.
In December 2018, Siuta asked them "Look, do you really want to adopt the kids?”
“Yes,” was their swift answer.
On July 9, 2019, the men legally adopted Anthony and Arabella, who are now 3 years old. They are the center of the world that Edward and Andrew have created in their sometimes messy house, where everyone also dotes on the family’s two dogs and a cat. And they have the love and support of their biological relatives.
“We are still a family," Siuta said. “The guys are like family for me now — I gained family. And I couldn’t ask for better parents for the twins.”
The children continue to visit Siuta about twice a month. They have their own bedroom in her home — and more than enough toys to keep them busy.
“Grandmom can spoil them whenever she wants,” Siuta joked.
Andrew and Edward know that their relationship with the children’s birth family is something many people may not understand. But they’re comfortable with their decision, and feel gratitude and compassion for those who made it possible.
“From so many other stories we’ve seen, or gay dads we know or have read about, they don’t have this same kind of openness with biological family members,” said Edward. “The biological family understands and accepts that we are the parents of the twins — but we understand and accept that they are the biological family who suffered loss and sadness from the moment the twins were born and not able to be in their care.”
The Senns have since become advocates for those dealing with the effects of drug use.
“When the twins were still our foster children, we did a fund-raiser around their birthday” with the birth parents in mind, said Edward. The resulting donations went to organizations that support addiction treatment and prison reform.
And last December, at Edward’s suggestion, 50% of the proceeds from the 2019 Christmas Choir Concert at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church went to support Prevention Point Philadelphia, the Kensington social-services organization that advocates for communities affected by drug use and poverty.
The couple’s life has changed drastically since the day they decided to start a family. And they could not be more grateful for how that decision has turned out.
“We are so happy we did a foster-to-adoption, and we are so happy we got to know the birth family,” said Edward, whom the kids call “Daddy.”
“I don’t know what the next chapter will look like,” added Andrew, whom the kids call “Dada.” “This chapter, now, is pretty amazing.”